Working Out Our Salvation
Working Out Our Salvation Philippians 2:12-18 Pastor Pat Damiani January 7, 2018 I’ve always wanted to be a fly fisherman. So over the years I’ve kind of dabbled with the idea. At various times I’ve read books about it and at one point I even bought a fly rod and reel and played around with it a few times. But none of that makes me a fly fisherman. So over the last few months I decided that I’m going to get more serious about my dreams. I’ve even made arrangements to go out with an experienced guide while Mary and I are on vacation next summer. But until I actually go out with the guide and follow her instructions and practice what she teaches me, I will be no closer to being a fly fisherman than I’ve been up to this point in my life. All of us probably have things like that in our lives - things that we would like to do – perhaps a new hobby, or pursuing a new career, or learning to play an instrument. But just thinking about those things or talking about them or even reading about them or dabbling in them like I’ve done with my fly fishing, doesn’t make us proficient. Even making a commitment to do what is required to become proficient in those things is not enough. We actually have to do the hard work that is required to become what or who we want to become. But for some reason when it comes to our walk with Jesus, many Christians have come to believe that all that is required to become a mature disciple of Jesus is to make a commitment and put one’s faith in Jesus. But as we’ll see this morning, becoming a mature disciple requires more than just talking about it or reading about it or learning about it or even making a commitment - It also requires diligence and hard work. So with that in mind go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Philippians chapter 2. You’ll find that small book near the back of your Bibles after the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians and Ephesians and before you get to Colossians and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. In my Bible that’s on page 981. [Read Philippians 2:12-18] Although I wanted to read that entire paragraph to make sure we put this passage in context, I’m primarily going to focus on verses 12 and 13 this morning. And when we do that, here is the main idea that we’re going to focus on: A mature disciple of Jesus is one who keeps working out that which God keeps working in Before we look at what these verses are teaching, it is crucial that we understand what Paul is not saying here. Even though the world and every other religion in the world operate on the merit system, Biblical Christianity does not work like that. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus, Paul and the other New Testament authors make it clear that our salvation is a gift from God that cannot be earned based on anything we do. In fact, we saw the same thing in our study of the Old Testament last year, too. But I still find that a lot of people view salvation like this. [Show Facebook post] It’s important to note that Paul doesn’t write that his readers were to work “for” their salvation, or “toward” their salvation or “at” their salvation. In fact, Paul is clearly writing here to those who are already disciples of Jesus who do not need to receive salvation because they have already obtained it. So let me be really blunt here. If you think that you’re going to heaven because you’re a good person, I am confident in saying that you aren’t going to heaven. The only ones who receive the salvation that Jesus offers are those who recognize that they are sinners who can’t possibly earn their way into a relationship with a holy God and who have cried out to God to save them based on the sacrifice Jesus made on their behalf. Paul is not dealing here with how to receive our salvation, but rather what we are to do with that salvation once we receive it. He already hinted that he was going to deal with this subject near the beginning of his letter: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV) We have often talked about how there are three distinct, but related, aspects of our salvation and Paul addresses all three of them here: • In the past, I was saved from the punishment for my sins through faith in Jesus. We often use the term “justification” to describe this aspect of our salvation. That is what Paul refers to here when he writes about the “good work” that God began in us. Notice that God is the one who does that work. • In the present, I am being saved from the power of sin through the process that we often call “sanctification”. Here Paul refers to that part of salvation when he writes about God “bringing salvation to completion”. Again, notice that it is God doing that work. • In the future, I will be saved from the presence of sin. That will happen on “the day of Jesus Christ” – a reference to the second coming of Jesus. Here in our passage, and especially in verses 12 and 13, Paul is writing about the second, present, aspect of our salvation. And in those two verses he reveals… THREE IMPORTANT TRUTHS ABOUT MY SPIRITUAL GROWTH 1. I am responsible for my own spiritual growth Even though we might not put it in these terms, it seems that here in the United States, in particular, we have largely come to believe that someone else is responsible for our spiritual growth. This is clearly evidenced by a whole generation of church hoppers who move from church to church looking for just the right one where they are “going to be fed.” And at least from what I have seen, the most common reason people give when leaving a church is that they “aren’t being fed”. My grandson, Brayden, is only 8 months old, so he still needs for someone to feed him. But my other grandkids, who range in age from 4 to 8 years old can all feed themselves. And that’s the way it should be when it comes to our spiritual growth. We all start out as spiritual babies who need someone to feed us. But we ought to grow up pretty quickly to the point where we can feed ourselves. When I go to the gym, there is another guy that shows up around the same time I do many days and he usually runs on the treadmill, which is something I can no longer do because of my knees. So I always kid him and tell him to do a mile or two extra for me. But obviously it doesn’t work like that. So I have to do my own workout on the elliptical trainer or the rowing machine or the stair climber in order to get my cardio workout in. The same thing is true when it comes to my spiritual growth. No one else can do it for me. Paul makes that point here in a couple of different ways. First, you’ll notice he commands his readers to work out “your own salvation…” The clear implication there is that each person is responsible for his or her own spiritual growth. No one else can do the “working out” for them. Paul also commands his readers to obey God now, even though he can’t physically be present with them to teach them in person the way he had done in the past. Paul is likely writing this letter from a Roman prison cell, but he is encouraging his readers to continue their spiritual growth on their own. Although there are no doubt others there in that local body who can help them with that task, they are still individually responsible for their own growth. The same thing is true here at TFC. God has gifted this body with men and women who can help you grow spiritually. In fact, the main responsibility for me and the other elders is to help equip all of you to carry out the work of ministry. But ultimately, each one of you is responsible for what you do with the teaching and ministry that goes on here. Only you can take and apply what you’re learning in your life. I can’t do that for you any more than someone else can run on the treadmill for me. 2. Spiritual growth requires both God’s power and my participation This is another one of those “both/and” parts of our faith. Throughout history, Christians have often been divided into two camps when it comes to spiritual growth. On one end of the spectrum are those whose motto is “Let go and let God.” These people see sanctification and spiritual growth as a passive process. This approach is often referred to as quietism. It tends to be mystical and subjective, focusing on personal feeling and experiences. The idea is that a person can be so utterly submitted to and dependent on God that they can live a life free of sin. At the other end of the spectrum are those whose motto is “God only helps those who help themselves.” This approach is often known as pietism. Those who hold to this view aggressively pursue doctrinal and moral purity. They emphasize self-effort, often to the virtual exclusion of any kind of dependence on God. So who is right – the quietist who says “do nothing” or the pietist who says “do everything.”? Paul’s answer here is both of them. The fact is that when it comes to my spiritual growth, God has a part and I have a part. Or as we put it earlier… A mature disciple of Jesus is one who keeps working out that which God keeps working in Since, as I pointed out earlier, sanctification, like every aspect of our salvation, is primarily God’s work, let’s begin with God’s part. We find that in verse 13. We see there that God is working in us. The verb “works” is a present tense verb that indicates that this is an ongoing process. It is the Greek word from which we get our English word “energize”. Here we see that God energizes us in two different ways. I’ve always thought the NLT translation of verse 13 does a really good job of capturing the essence of those two aspects of God’s working: For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. (Philippians 2:13 NLT) God is working in us in two distinct ways. First, He gives us the desire to do what pleases Him. He does that primarily through His Holy Spirit who dwells in each believer. Left to our own devices, the sin nature that still lives in us will draw us toward doing what pleases us. But if we will yield to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, He will draw us toward those things that please God. Secondly, God gives us the power and ability to carry out those God-centered desires. He promises to provide whatever is needed to be obedient to God. So we are totally dependent on God to give us the desire and the ability to grow spiritually. But we also have a responsibility – one that is revealed by the command to “work out” our salvation. That verb is also a present tense verb, which means that the working out of our salvation – whatever that means – is an ongoing process, not just a one-time commitment or decision. The verb “work out” is a compound word that conveys the idea of carrying something to completion. It was used to describe working a field thoroughly until it produced an abundant harvest. The clear implication here is that we are to keep on living out our faith in a way that we grow into the mature disciples that Jesus intends for us to become. Perhaps an illustration will help us understand the relationship between God’s responsibility of working in my salvation and my responsibility to work it out. Each week our worship team leads us in singing songs that are written by other musicians. The music and lyrics are developed by those other musicians and belongs to them. But they make that music available to worship teams like ours. The responsibility of the worship team then becomes to take that music and work on it and practice it until we can get it to the point that it carries out the composers’ original purpose of using it to worship God. That purpose is only achieved when both parties do their part. 3. Spiritual growth is hard work I want you to think about something that you do well in your life. Perhaps it’s something like playing an instrument or being really good at chess. Maybe it’s something that you do in your job. Maybe it’s even something like having a good marriage or being a good parent. Perhaps to some extent, you do that well because God is working in you in that area. He’s given you some special aptitude or skill or ability. But even if that is the case, I think I am safe in assuming that you do that well because you’ve put in the hard work to work out what God is working in. So why would our spiritual growth be any different? No one becomes a mature disciple by accident or by osmosis. Even if you’re here at church every single Sunday and you participate in the worship and listen attentively to the message, you won’t automatically grow spiritually unless you’re willing to put in the hard work that is needed. As we’ve said repeatedly this morning… A mature disciple of Jesus is one who keeps working out that which God keeps working in But even if you believe that and even if you have the desire to do the hard work of working out your salvation, the task may be daunting because you have no idea where to even start. So I want to close this morning by making this really practical. THORNYDALE FAMILY CHURCH DISCIPLESHIP PATH While there is no completely perfect way to picture the process of becoming a mature disciple, this path was designed to be a helpful tool to help all of us evaluate where we are right now in our walk with Jesus and to identify some potential “next steps” that each one of us can take to become a more mature disciple of Jesus. Before I focus on the individual components of our Discipleship Path, I want to point out we’ve pictured this path as a circle. We’ve done that intentionally for three reasons: • While it’s helpful to look at the individual components to help us identify where we are in our development as disciples of Jesus, in the real world there is a lot of overlap between each of these components. It’s not necessary to become completely proficient in one step before we move to the next one. That is because… • The process of becoming a mature disciple of Jesus never ends. It is not like our western education system where we graduate and get a diploma and then we’re finished. In particular, the steps of growing, serving and sharing ought to constantly be part of every disciple’s life. • It depicts the responsibility that we have to reproduce what God has done in our lives in the lives of others and then equip them to do the same. Here is what Paul wrote to Timothy about that process: and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2 ESV) But with those caveats in mind, I do want to take some time to address each component in the path and suggest some practical steps that each of us should consider as we think about our “next step” in that process. 1. COME The phrase “come and see” occurs twice in John chapter 1 – first when two curious disciples of John the asked Jesus where He was staying and He answered, “Come and you will see” and then the next day when Philip told Nathaniel that he had found the Messiah. When Nathaniel responded with skepticism, Philip said, “Come and see”. Every single one of you is here this morning because at some time in your life someone invited you to come and see Jesus, maybe not with those exact words, but certainly with that idea in mind. So I’m going to make the assumption that all of you here this morning have taken this first step so we don’t need to spend any more time here. 2. COMMIT In Luke 14, we read that there were great crowds that accompanied Jesus. But when He began to teach that being His disciple required a commitment to put Him ahead of everything and everyone else, even their own families, most of them weren’t willing to make that kind of commitment. At TFC, we have identified 3 crucial commitments that demonstrate that someone is serious about his or her relationship with Jesus: • A personal commitment to place one’s faith in Jesus Christ alone as the only way to be made right with God and to make Jesus both Savior and Lord. That means not only relying on Jesus as the way to be forgiven for your sins, but also to surrender control of your life to Him. • To testify to that commitment by baptism by immersion subsequent to that decision. That is the method of baptism followed by Jesus as a model for His disciples and the only method practiced in the early church. It is also the only method that pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. • To become a member of Thornydale Family Church. The New Testament writers stressed the importance of each disciple of Jesus being an active part of a local body of believers and membership in a local church is evidence of that kind of commitment. 3. GROW Since each person is different, it is difficult to narrow this section down to only a few possible steps, but here are five that we have found to be some of the best indicators of spiritual growth: • Systematic Bible Reading. In a study done by Lifeway Research several years ago, this was by far the most important attribute of mature disciples. That is one of the reasons we’ve been putting so much emphasis on each person in our body having a systematic plan to read through the entire Bible. It’s not too late for you to find a plan and get started. • Prayer. This topic is way too broad for me to cover this morning, so let me leave you with one practical tip that has been beneficial for a number of people in our church. Several of us have been using the PrayerMate app for a while now and have found it to be a really useful tool in helping us to pray consistently. • Regular church attendance. We’ve already talked about the importance of being a part of a local church and mature disciples recognize the importance of making regular participation in the life of the body a high priority in their lives. • Stewardship. We are to be good stewards of the time, talent and treasure that God entrusts to us. One important aspect of that stewardship is giving joyfully, regularly and generously to our church as an investment in furthering the kingdom of God. • Participation in a small group. While personal Bible reading and study is important, we are much more likely to learn and apply the Bible when we do that in concert with others. 4. SERVE All of us have two spheres in which we are to serve others in the name of Jesus: • Within the body – other believers. Almost all the “one anothers” in the New Testament apply primarily to our relationships with other disciples. We are to pray for one another, encourage one another, love one another, forgive each other and even greet one another with a holy kiss – and those are just a few of the many “one anothers” in the Bible. We can do those things formally by serving in various ministries within the church as well as informally as we interact with others who are part of the body. Our goal is that each person would be involved in at least one ministry here at TFC and if you’re not already plugged in, we’re here to help you do that. • Outside the body – both believers and unbelievers. There are literally an unlimited number of possibilities here. This might occur in your home, in your job, in your neighborhood or in the community. Most of the time this merely requires us to understand where God has placed us and recognize the people who he has brought into our lives and look for ways to serve those people. 5. SHARE As I mentioned before Christmas, this is the area where we have the most room to grow as individuals and as a body. So we’re going to work very hard this year to help us all be much more outwardly focused. Next week, we’re going to begin a nine-week study in the Book of Acts titled “Gathered to Go” to see what we can learn from the early church about how Jesus gathered His disciples together in the church in order to equip them to go into the world and be His witnesses. Much of the time in our 24 hours of prayer that begins this evening will be focused on asking God to make us more outwardly focused as a church. And we’re going to be engaging in a couple of projects this year in which we’re going to leave the walls of this building so we can go out into our community and minister. A mature disciple of Jesus is one who keeps working out that which God keeps working in So I want to challenge every single one of us to identify one concrete “next step” that we will commit to take this year in order to keep working out that which God is working in. And along with the other Elders, I want to help you fulfill that commitment by praying for you and providing you with whatever other assistance that we can give. So in your bulletin, you’ll find an insert where you can identify your “next step” and then turn that form is so that we can come alongside you as a church. So right now I’m going to give you a few minutes to prayerfully consider what God is leading you to do and to complete that form. [Prayer] Questions for the Bible Roundtable 1. When it comes to salvation, what are the dangers of camping too hard on either God’s sovereignty or man’s responsibility? 2. What would you say to someone who claims that his or her church isn’t feeding them adequately? 3. Do you tend to lean more toward “Let go and let God” or “God only helps those who help themselves?” What practical steps can we take to avoid both extremes? 4. Why do you think spiritual growth is such hard work? What are some of the areas that you struggle with personally? How can others in this body help you in that area?